“Hate that was so bright and hot that it was the first thing that truly warmed him.”
How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories is an illustrated novella following Cardan Greenbriar, during many different stages in his life, while we slowly see all the different things that shaped him cruelly. The sound that left me when I opened this book and realized we were going to get present day with Jude from Cardan’s POV… be still, my hopes and dreams and heart.
Rovina Cai’s art is truly so beautiful that it renders me speechless. I was already in love with her and her art because of her work with The Wayward Children series, but this entire book feels like am immersive work of art. From the perfect color palette, to the most perfect details, she executes the vibe of Cardan and his story in a way that I don’t think another artist could.
In this story, Cardan’s life is very much impacted by a troll named Aslong who was wronged by Cardan’s father. She tells a story about a boy with a heart of stone, who finds himself in a predicament with a monster girl who won’t scare him away, until his heart starts beating again. And then all throughout his life, she tells his alternate versions of this same story, each version with a new meaning for a new version of Cardan himself.
“She was the only real thing in a land of ghosts.”
We also get to see so much of Cardan’s perspective during The Cruel Prince, much like we did with Tarryn in The Lost Sisters, and it was everything. Nicasia and Locke have much wanted character development in this book, too, and I am literally on my knees begging for Holly to just give us the trilogy in Cardan’s complete point of view. But we see Nicasia being fostered on the land because her mother, Orlagh, Queen of the Undersea, wants to start putting pieces in motion. We get to see Locke, and his empty house and even emptier heart, teach Cardan the word “cruel” on every page. And these two, in addition to a prophecy looming over this young prince, are truly the first catalysts to this story and I was so in love seeing behind the scenes. And when Holly gives us Locke’s perspective one of these years…
“Playing the villain was the only thing he’d ever really excelled at.”
Each part, each mini story, we get to see Cardan questioning who he is and who he wants to be. Not to make this too deep, but Cardan very slowly realizes that he is not responsible for the terrible acts his family committed; both to him and to the people they ruled over. He struggles with his identity of a prince who should feel like he has everything, and a boy who feels like he has nothing. But seeing him finally understand that he deserves not only love but unconditional love? Him slowly appreciating that his heart can be warm and beat unapologetically? Truly some powerful stuff.
On a personal note, I think most of you know that Holly Black is an author who means a lot to me. Her fae stories are what first got me into YA when I was young, and it really changed me as a reader and probably a human as well. I know most of you know that 2020 has been a hard year for everyone and everything, very much including my reading, so being able to curl up and read about my emotional support fae, from my emotional support author, just meant a lot to me. I truly think reading this book a day before release (bless you Waterstones and my mail person) was the best reading experience I’ve had all year, and for that alone this book was probably the easiest five star I’ve given in a year of not a lot of five star reads.
“Feels as though she has to earn the crown on her head over and over again.”
Overall, this felt like the fairytale of my dreams. Cardan is my favorite character in The Cruel Prince series (or any of Holly’s books, I think) and this truly was such a magical, wonderous, unforgettable addition to this world. I am incredibly biased over this series because so much of my heart and nostalgia are wrapped up within this world, but I honestly think there is just so much to love on every page of this book. I feel blessed to read about each time Holly gives us a new book, and this will for sure be a favorite of mine for all of 2020. Lastly, I cannot believe we really got to read about Cardan going out for boba.
Content & Trigger Warnings: abandonment, bullying, abuse, mention of drug use, humiliation, talk of cheating, and a lot of drinking.